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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Parker House Rolls

Have you ever met anyone that was just a joy to watch cook?  Well I have my own resident joyful "cooker girl" (as she calls herself) here with me.  I thought I would have a bit of time to cook by myself this particular afternoon, as all the kids were involved in various things.  But I was caught red handed.... well actually, I was caught putting on my apron.  So Lily is passing through and eyes me.  Her - "Where is my apron?" Me - "Hanging up, why?"  Lily - "Because I want to cook with you.  So what are we making?"  Boy, THAT's the cooking spirit!!
 
I wanted to experiment with making these Parker House rolls.  This is the point at which I should tell you - the idea of making bread scares the crap out of me for some reason.  Maybe it's because first my grandmother, and now my mother makes it so often and so darned effortlessly that I know mine won't measure up.  Maybe that's why I was trying to do it by myself (in secret)... lest it not be good, I could clean everything up and hide the evidence of my failure. (Channeling my 12 year old self.) :/

This is adapted from the Fannie Farmer recipe dating back well over 100 years ago. *See Food Nerd Notes at the bottom of the post.  I will share information about the legendary Fannie Farmer and also about Parker House Rolls.

Ingredients -
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 room temperature large egg
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • more flaky sea salt for finishing




1/4 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast
Heat 1 cup whole milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it is just warm. 
Don't worry, moms... the fire is not turned on yet in this photo.  Lily just insisted upon doing all the pouring herself.
1 cup whole milk
To another bowl, add 1/4 cup vegetable shortening. 
Why are there three photos of this?  I just had to. She was trying to get the shortening out of the measuring cup, but it didn't 'slide' out as she thought it should.  Watch as her face changes.  Moms of toddlers will surely have seen these expressions many times. 


The look of assured confidence...
1/4 cup vegetable shortening.  

The look of wonder..maybe pop it a little harder?!
Wonder?
The look of Frustration!




Next, add the 3 Tbsp sugar and 2 tsp kosher salt.
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
Add the warm milk and whisk to blend.
1 cup whole milk, warm





The lumps may not all dissolve.  Don't fret about it.
Add the yeast mixture to the milk mixture.


Incorporate the yeast mixture

 Add in 1 large room temperature egg.























Add in 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.
Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth with floured hands.


form into a ball
So you may want to help out a bit too... about 5 minutes worth.

Transfer the dough ball to a lightly oiled bown, and turn to coat.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Now is the time to clean up the mess.  :)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and get ready to make the rolls.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a small cup or saucepan.  Lightly brush a 13x9" baking dish with some of the melted butter.
Punch down the dough, and divide into 4 equal pieces.
Lily did NOT appreciate this part, as she viewed it as ruining all the hard work we had done to get it to this big fluffy ball.
Working with 1 piece at a time, roll out each ball of dough onto a floured surface into a 12x6" rectangle. 

Cut lengthwise into three, 2"-wide strips... A pizza cutter definitely makes this easier! :)

Cut each strip crosswise into three 4x2" rectangles. 
Okay, so our rectangle wasn't great, and our pieces aren't all uniform..  C'est la vie!
Brush half of each piece with melted butter, then fold the unbuttered side over, allowing 1/4" overhang.  *I think we will probably do this differently next time, but I was trying to stay true to the recipe.  I think next time, we will just form dough balls, brush the tops with butter, and then make an indention in the middle of them with a chopstick, laid on top of them.

Add the rolls into the pan, shingling them as you go.
It occurs to me that we may have put them in backwards.  I think probably the fold should be tucked under the bottom with the open ends poking out!  :o
Brush the tops with melted butter, then loosely cover and chill for 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.


Bake rolls until golden and puffed, about 35 minutes.  Brush with melted butter (again!).


Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve warm.
* I have to make an admission here.  After the butter and salt, I actually served them after I brushed the tops with melted honey butter.  Yum.

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Written Directions
Whisk 1 envelope active dry yeast and 1/4 cup warm water in a bowl and let it stand for 5 minutes.  Heat 1 cup whole milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it is just warm. 


To another bowl, add 1/4 cup vegetable shortening.  Next, add the 3 Tbsp sugar and 2 tsp kosher salt.  Add the yeast mixture to the milk mixture. Add in 1 large room temperature egg. Add in 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour. Transfer the dough ball to a lightly oiled bown, and turn to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a small cup or saucepan.  Lightly brush a 13x9" baking dish with some of the melted butter. Punch down the dough, and divide into 4 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll out each ball of dough onto a floured surface into a 12x6" rectangle.  Cut lengthwise into three, 2"-wide strips... A pizza cutter definitely makes this easier! :) Brush half of each piece with melted butter, then fold the unbuttered side over, allowing 1/4" overhang.  *I think we will probably do this differently next time, but I was trying to stay true to the recipe.  I think next time, we will just form dough balls, brush the tops with butter, and then make an indention in the middle of them with a chopstick, laid on top of them.
Brush the tops with melted butter, then loosely cover and chill for 30 minutes or up to 6 hours. Bake rolls until golden and puffed, about 35 minutes.  Brush with melted butter (again!).


Food Nerd Notes:
So what makes a Parker House roll special? Butter.  Traditional Parker House rolls are bread rolls made by flattening the center of a ball of dough so that it becomes an oval shape, then buttered, then folded in half. They are made with milk and are generally quite buttery, with a fine and tender texture, and slightly sweet with a crispy shell.  The story is that they were invented at the Parker House Hotel in Boston, and are still served there. Fannie Farmer gave a recipe in her 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Bood for them.  (The Parker House Hotel is the same hotel that created the first Boston Cream Pie in 1855, serving both rolls and pie to the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.)

I really like the technique used by Joy the Baker where she forms the buns, then uses a chopstick to make a uniform crease in the middle.  I think maybe next time, Lily and I will try that.  She thinks chopsticks are cool. :)

So who is this Fannie Farmer? 

Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857 - 1915) was an American culinary expert whose Boston Cooking-School Cook Book became a widely used culinary text.  She was born in Boston, Massachusetts and was the oldest of four daughters.  she was born into a family that highly valued education, where she would have been expected to go to college.  However, she suffered a paralytic stroke at the age of 16 while attending high school, and could not continue her formal academic education.   She remained in her parents' home for several more years, as she was unable to walk after the stroke.  While there, she took up cooking, and eventually turned her mother's home into a boarding house that developed a reputation for the quality of the meals it served.

At the age of 30, Farmer, now walking (but with a substantial limp that never left her), enrolled in the Boston Cooking School, where she trained until 1889 during the height of the "domestic science" movement. She was learning what were then considered the most critical elements of the science, including nutrition and diet for the well, convalescent cookery, techniques of cleaning and sanitation, chemical analysis of food, techniques of cooking and baking, and housebold management. Farmer was considered one of the school's top students. She was then kept on as assistant to the director. In 1891, she took the position of school principal.

Cookbook fame
Fannie published her best-known work, Boston Cooking-School Cook Book,  in 1896. Her cookbook was revolutionary in that it introduced the concept of using standardized measuring spoons and cups, as well as level measurement.  The book's publisher (Little, Brown & Company) did not predict good sales and limited the first edition to 3,000 copies, published at the author's expense.  The book was so popular in America, so thorough, and so comprehensive that cooks would refer to later editions simply as the "Fannie Farmer cookbook," and it is still available in print over 100 years later.
Farmer provided scientific explanations of the chemical processes that occur in food during cooking, and also helped to standardize the system of measurements used in cooking in the USA. Before the Cookbook's publication, other American recipes frequently called for amounts such as "a piece of butter the size of an egg" or "a teacup of milk." Farmer's systematic discussion of measurement — "A cupful is measured level ... A tablespoonful is measured level. A teaspoonful is measured level." — led to her being named "the mother of level measurements."
Farmer left the Boston Cooking School in 1902 and created Miss Farmer's School of Cookery. She began by teaching gentlewomen and housewives the rudiments of plain and fancy cooking, but her interests eventually led her to develop a complete work of diet and nutrition for the ill, titled Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent. Farmer was invited to lecture at  Harvard Medical School and began teaching convalescent diet and nutrition to doctors and nurses.  She felt so strongly about the significance of proper food for the sick that she believed she would be remembered chiefly by her work in that field, as opposed to her work in household and fancy cookery. Farmer understood perhaps better than anyone else at the time the value of appearance, taste, and presentation of sickroom food to ill and wasted people with poor appetites; she ranked these qualities over cost and nutritional value in importance.

Later life
During the last seven years of her life, Farmer used a wheelchair. Despite her immobility, Farmer continued to lecture, write, and invent recipes, giving her last lecture 10 days before her death.  Farmer also lectured to nurses and dietitians and taught a course on dietary preparation at Harvard Medical School.  To many chefs and good home cooks in America, her name remains synonymous today with precision, organization, and good food.
What an awesome legacy!

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